I just got Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. In typical fashion, I read it from cover to cover, got really excited about foccacia, cinnamon rolls, ciabatta, and baguettes, but then got really turned off by the amount of time it takes to make bread!! Most of the recipes require a 2-day period (so much time to proof) and who has that kind of time, really?
One recipe really caught my eye: english muffins. And the preparation time was slightly more reasonable: 3 hours. Not so bad, and I could make the dough and then go do other things in the meantime (like lose a soccer game...sad!).
Did you know that english muffins are not baked like most breads? They are actually made on a griddle or a skillet! That's how they get such nice flat, brown sides. Making bread on a griddle was much cooler than making pancakes, and just might be a new go-to weekend breakfast... that is if I can wake up on a baker's schedule and prepare these 3 hours before anyone wakes up... yeah, wishful thinking.
I'll be honest - until I tasted the muffins, I thought I had definitely screwed up the recipe. Nothing seemed to go right throughout the whole process! Mostly due to my impatience (another common theme for my cooking style), I added too much liquid and after several additions of flour, the dough was still sticky. But I decided to go with it and just let it rise, and it was fine.
Then, Peter assured that as I cook the muffins, "they will brown quickly but will not burn for awhile, so resist the urge to turn them prematurely." I took this a little to much to heart (or I had the temperature up too high...because my muffins definitely burned. Oh well, it adds flavor?)
But even with these little fiascos, they tasted oh-so-good! And the trick to getting the signature nooks and crannies: split the muffins with a fork, not a knife! Stab all around the edge of the muffin with a fork, then gently pull apart.
Makes 6 English Muffins
- 2 1/4 c. unbleached bread flour (I couldn't find bread flour at my nearby Safeway because it is severely lacking in the baking department, but I used unbleached all-purpose flour and added 2 tbsp of high gluten flour).
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast (again - lacking in the baking dept - so I used active dry with water and sugar which probably contributed to the dough being extra sticky)
- 1 tbsp shortening at room temperature
- 3/4 c. to 1 c. buttermilk at room temperature (I used 1 c. which, again, contributed to the dough being sticky)
- cornmeal for sprinkling
- Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Stir in the shortening and 3/4 c. buttermilk until the ingredients come together in a ball. If necessary(!!!): pour in the some of the remaining 1/4 c. buttermilk - the dough should be soft and pliable.
- Sprinkle flour on th counter, and knead the dough for 10 minutes. (If you are lucky enough to have a stand mixer, you can use it with the dough hook and knead for about 8 minutes). Sprinkle more flour if necessary to make a tacky (not sticky!!) dough.
- Lightly oil a large bowl, put in the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Let bread proof (rise) for 60-90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.
- Wipe the counter with a damp cloth and place the dough on the counter. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces and roll into small balls.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment, spray with oil, and dust with cornmeal. Place the balls evenly spaced on the sheet pan, then mist with oil and sprinkle cornmeal on top.
- Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let proof for another 60-90 minutes, or until the balls double in size, poofing both up and out.
- Heat a skillet or griddle to medium (~350 deg F), also preheat the oven to 350 deg.
- Spray the pan lightly with oil and transfer the muffins to the pan, a couple at a time (they should be at least 1 inch apart). Keep the other muffins on the sheet pan covered with plastic wrap in the meantime.
- Cook them for 5-8 minutes "or until the bottom of the dough cannot cook any longer without burning" (Ok interjection...HOW CAN YOU KNOW THIS?! I think that you need to be really vigilant looking for steam coming up from the bottom of the muffins. Otherwise, you don't want to disturb the muffins, but you also don't want to burn them...tricky...) Peter claims that they won't burn for awhile. Perhaps I should try a lower temperature next time.
- Carefully flip the muffins with a spatula and cook on the other side for another 5-8 minutes, again taking care not to burn them.
- Immediately transfer the muffins to another sheet pan (don't wait until the whole batch is done, do this as soon as they come off the griddle) and put in the oven for 5 minutes to make sure that the center is baked.
- In the meantime, cook the rest of the muffins in this same cycle: griddle, oven.
- Put the baked muffins on a cooling rack and let sit for at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving. (30 minutes was a challenge for me...they smelled and looked so good! But waiting is definitely worth it)
Look! You made homemade english muffins!